This is the story of the month as far as office workers go: inactivity is killing us.

When we realised that smoking kills, we did something about it. Now the research is telling us that sitting for hours each day is having the same deadly effect.

Nobody should be surprised that modern office demands are toxic to the human body. We can wait for governments to legislate to correct it (and keep getting sicker in the meantime) or we can take personal responsibility and actively do something about it.

While no specific research has been done on working carers and the amount of exercise they undertake, common sense tells us that most working carers would be racing through their working day taking as few breaks as possible, so they can get home in time to undertake their caring duties. So this research is doubly important to them.

The research was recently published in the prestigious Lancet medical research journal. The study of more than one million adults found that sitting for at least eight hours a day could increase the risk of premature death by up to 60 per cent.

Researchers said the typical modern routine of spending a day in front of a computer, followed by an evening slumped in front of the television, was proving fatal.

Lead research scientist, Prof Ulf Ekelund, from Cambridge University and the Norwegian School of Sports Sciences, said: “We found that at least one hour of physical activity per day, for example brisk walking or cycling, eliminates the association between sitting time and death.

“You don't need to do sport, you don't need to go to the gym, it's OK doing some brisk walking maybe in the morning, during your lunchtime, and after dinner in the evening. You can split it up over the day but you need to do at least one hour.”

Researchers called for radical changes in government policies to encourage healthier habits. These include placing bus stops further apart to force people to walk for longer, closing streets to cars at weekends to encourage more sports and exercise, and opening free public gyms in parks.

Five-minute breaks

Many office workers, especially commuters, would find it hard to avoid long periods of being seated but should make every effort to break up their day, with short walks, the scientists said.

Polls of office workers found that only one in five workers leave their workplace at lunchtime, while just three per cent use the time to visit the gym or go for a walk.

“You must take a five-minute break every hour, go to the next office, go upstairs to the coffee machine, go to the printer,” said Prof Ekelund. “Build physical activity into your everyday life.”

Dr Pedro Hallal, a fellow researcher, from the Federal University of Pelotas in Brazil, said: “The combination of sitting too much all day, and too little activity is deadly.”

The studies could not pinpoint why long periods of sitting were specifically risky, but the scientists involved said that movement appeared to assist the body's metabolism, while sedentary periods could influence hormones such as leptin, which regulate energy balance.

In the study, participants, mostly aged over 45, were classed by their levels of physical activity, from up to five minutes a day to more than an hour and by the amount of time spent seated.
This was compared with death rates over a period of up to 18 years among the adults, who came from western Europe, Australia and the United States.

Among those who sat for at least eight hours a day and managed less than five minutes’ activity, mortality rates were 9.9 per cent. For those who spent just as long seated, but managed at least an hour’s exercise, death rates dropped to 6.2 per cent. Cancer and heart disease were the two most likely causes of death linked to inactivity.

When the scientists looked at the television viewing habits of a subgroup of about 500,000 people, they found that watching TV for more than three hours a day was associated with an increased risk of death in all groups except those who took at least an hour’s exercise.

Researchers said that globally, more than five million deaths a year are linked to physical inactivity – a similar number to lives lost to smoking, and a higher figure than that caused by obesity.

The answer to this silent epidemic which is killing workers across the world is simple – get off your tush and start walking – EVERY day!

Read the full story in Lancet: